Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny urged U.S. Congress members Tuesday to keep up the pressure for reconciliation between the republic and Northern Ireland.
Lawmakers hosted Kenny and President Barack Obama for an annual luncheon belatedly marking St. Patrick's Day, replete with bagpipes, green-and-white flowers and Guinness beer. Earlier, Obama hosted Kenny for a meeting at the White House, with both leaders wearing green ties and shamrocks in their jacket pockets.
But Ireland's ongoing economic challenges and a tenuous political situation in Northern Ireland formed the backdrop of the festive visit.
At the luncheon, Kenny spoke of worrying trends in Northern Ireland, including violent protests and increased activity by Irish Republican Army splinter groups that have cast a shadow on prospects for reconciliation between British Protestants and Irish Catholics there.
"I ask you to maintain the support you have always shown to Northern Ireland," Kenny told members of Congress. "But I also ask you to join me in insisting that the political leaders recommit to working together to respect and fully implement the Agreements for a peaceful and prosperous society for all."
Kenny's comments at the lunch, like those of Obama, were closed to reporters, but aides provided transcripts of their prepared remarks.
Obama too reflected on obstacles to reconciliation before his White House meeting with Kenny.
"There's a lot more work to be done before there's true unity in that country," he said.
Obama met separately at the White House with the joint Protestant and Catholic leaders of Northern Ireland's unity government, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
Police in Northern Ireland have foiled two attempts this month by IRA loyalists to fire mortar rounds at police bases. Most IRA members renounced violence and disarmed after failing to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, the traditional IRA goal.
Saluting the close U.S.-Ireland relationship and the contributions of Irish Americans, Obama also praised Kenny's leadership through difficult economic times and said improvements in their economy helps in trade with the United States.
Kenny said that Obama had signaled his intent to make another visit to Ireland, although it was unclear when that would be. Kenny said Obama's schedule might preclude him from stopping there as part of his trip to the upcoming G8 meeting of leading industrial nations, which is scheduled for June in Northern Ireland.
Both leaders hailed European discount airline Ryanair's announcement Tuesday that it will buy 175 jets from Chicago-based Boeing Co., which has struggled ever since its new 787 Dreamliner was grounded by regulators in January following problems with its electrical system. Ryanair's purchase of the popular 737 jets constitutes the largest order ever placed by a European carrier.
"It's an example how the progress made in Ireland benefits jobs and businesses here in the United States," Obama said.
The Obamas will also host an evening reception where the president will receive a bowl of shamrocks from Kenny. It's a tradition started under President Harry Truman.
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Nedra Pickler and Andrew Miga in Washington and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.